Influences on Grief and its Expression


Although there are some societies in which men cry along with women after bereavement, whenever differences are found it is the men who inhibit the expression of grief (Rosenblatt 1976).


While newborn babies cry when separated, true grief depends on the development of object constancy, the idea that others continue to exist when not near. This begins by the end of the first year.

Toddlers play ‘death games’ but the idea that the dead do not return takes longer to become established, even so they do grieve when separated for any length of time.

In later childhood, children grieve in much the same way as adults but their grief is often complicated by the failure of parents and others to communicate with them about these important events in their lives (Oltjenbruns 2001). Misunderstandings commonly arise and may cause later problems.

Although bereavements are common in old age, the elderly often grieve less than younger persons, perhaps because they are better prepared for loss (Lund 1989).


Religious and other cultural beliefs, rituals and mores have a considerable influence on grief. At times of war and among martial races the inhibition of grief is common (Parkes 1996).

Type of Bereavement

The stronger the attachment the greater the grief.

Loss of a Child In the West the loss of a child usually gives rise to the most intense and lasting grief, mothers are particularly vulnerable to the loss of young children (Stroebe 2001b.).

In countries where people have large families because they expect children to die this is not the case (Scheper-Hughes 1992).

Parental Loss The loss of a parent is most traumatic when the child is young and/or has not become autonomous.
Conjugal Loss Severe reactions to the loss of a spouse often reflect intense, dependent or ambivalent attachments (Parkes 2004).

Mode of Death

Deaths that are both unexpected and untimely, particularly if by human agency and/or accompanied by violence or mutilation are particularly traumatic and may give rise to severe anxiety/panic, post-traumatic stress, and/or delayed grief (Stroebe 2001).

Personal Vulnerability

Risk factors for problematic bereavement are (Parkes 2004):

  • unusually close or clinging attachments,
  • ambivalent relationships,
  • lack of confidence/self-esteem,
  • distrust of others and
  • previous history of mental health problems.

Social Supports

Social isolation and families that are seen as unsupportive give rise to intense loneliness and complicated grief after bereavement, particularly in old age (Raphael 1984).
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